I was reading an article on how there are companies across the country that are enacting policies regarding tobacco use among its employees. More specifically, instead of companies banning smoking at the workplace, they're banning smoking period, even during an employee's personal time.

The reason is supposedly simple; companies say health care costs are rising, and much of it is due to the use of tobacco. So they first set up smoking cessation classes for present employees, and give them a certain amount of time to give up smoking for good. They test them for any signs of tobacco, and if found, they can terminate the employees. For new employees, they can refuse to hire a present smoker, and can require them to be tested before being employed. This is legal in many states.

Not that I'm a smoker, but I feel it's fair to state that I disagree with this sort of thing. Companies having the right to tell you what you can legally do in this country but not while working for them shouldn't be their business, unless it somehow impacts the job duties you need to perform. So, in the interest of fairness, at least for New Yorkers and a few other states, you do have some protection that you're probably not aware of.

In New York, it's called The Lawful Activities Statute. Basically it's a statute that protects the rights of individuals in New York to pretty much do whatever they want to do on their own time without fear of losing their jobs. As written, it protects "an individual's legal use of consumable products prior to the beginning or after the conclusion of the employee's work hours, and off of the employer's premises and without use of the employer's equipment or other property." The statute also protects the "legal recreational activities" that the employee engages in off-site, during nonworking hours. [N.Y. Lab. Law § 201d(2)(b)(c) (2002)]. One thing the law doesn't protect, however, are the rights of fraternization within organizations if corporate rules are against it.

Many states, including California, Colorado and North Dakota, have similar laws and statues. But the other side may be growing. To me, those states that allow a company to start to dictate what an employee can do, under the guise of health and economics, are opening a Pandora's Box of other actions that someone will feel able to justify for some reason.

I'll go on record and say that I wish all somkers would stop now, and I'm glad that smoking has ended in places such as restaurants. However, allowing someone to control all outside aspects of your life like that, especially if they're legal, is no way to engender positive employee participation in an organization.